I love maps. I love history. I love Europe. Sophomore year in college I found a class that combined all three. The class examined the geographical and historical rise (and sometimes fall) of Europe’s capital cities. It was no surprise that I loved this class, too.
When I signed up, I had no idea that each class would transport me back to being five years old and sitting in my living room watching the screen in awe as my parents showed their friends the slides of their recent trip to London or Germany or somewhere else in Europe. That’s right. A majority of the class was a slide show of Europe’s beautiful capital cities. I was in heaven. I didn’t understand how this was a legitimate course. Better yet, I wanted to have a job where I got to travel all over Europe “in the name of research” and then talk about the places I visited while showing slides to an audience.
As if things couldn’t get any better, the class had a Part II complementary course the following semester. I signed up ASAP. It was during this term that the class went behind the Iron Curtain and into Russia. The professor had gone to visit his son, who had been attending Moscow State University, and he was very eager to share the photos. My interest in Russia hadn’t been sparked yet so I retained little from that particular lecture.
My thoughts were more focused on how I was amazed that Moscow was a place his son wanted to study, I wondered about the difficulty of getting a visa to go there, and how he, my professor, had been able to enter the country as a non-student. I knew little about Russia, but with the wall having come down only eleven years prior, I figured the country wouldn’t be too thrilled with letting Americans in just yet. I really had no idea. Rocky IV was still my only connection to the country. Sadly, I wasn’t interested in finding out more.
Four years later, I was finally interested in finding out more about Russia, and I was in-country to do it. For instance, I didn’t know Moscow had hills. On my first day in town a tour took my group to the top of Sparrow Hills in the southwest part of the city where we could overlook the whole of Moscow. I was trying to find all seven “wedding cake” buildings scattered throughout the city. To my right was a the ski jump built in 1953. In front of me, across the river, was the Luzhniki Stadium, where the open and closing ceremonies to the 1980 summer Olympics were held. To my left were distant views of the Kremlin. Behind me was a building for Moscow State University. As I turned to look at it, I felt I had seen it before. But how? When? Where?
Then it hit me – the historical geography class! The slide came to my mind. In the slide the professor is taking a picture of his son with this building behind him. I was standing in practically the same area as my professor when he took his picture. I had to snap the same shot, of course.
I hadn’t thought of that course in a really long time. I began to recall my thoughts about Russia I had that day in lecture. I had learned so much since then, having taken such an interest in the history and culture of the country. I had thought at the time that what the professor did in going to Moscow was so special, and there I was in Moscow doing something special, too. I had come a long way from that lecture hall in Madison.